Review: 'The Collection' Boasts New Traps, Familiar Formula

After scripting several “Saw” sequels, the writing team of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton struck out on their own with Dunstan’s 2009 directorial debut, “The Collector,” about a totally different masked psychopath who torments his targets with a number of ingeniously rigged traps. The plot may have echoed Jigsaw’s modus operandi, but we were spared that character’s penchant for big moral lessons in favor of a genuinely foreboding mood and just enough smarts to balance out the inherent silliness of facing off against a glorified Kevin McAllister.

Now, with “The Collection,” the series undergoes a pronounced change in tone early on from tense and claustrophobic to a sequel that’s more knowingly playful and imaginative within something of a willfully reduced capacity for scares. For those who are on board, it’s a more absurd yet equally efficient bit of grisly fun; for those who never were, don’t expect this one to change your mind regarding mindless bloodshed.

The Collector’s one knack is keeping a human souvenir, and the last we saw of cat burglar-turned-reluctant hero Arkin (Josh Stewart), he had become the killer’s latest pet. He manages to escape amid the mayhem of a nightclub massacre -- admirable as a bit of first-act rug-pulling, and the film’s first giddy signpost into tongue-in-cheek territory -- while the Collector scoops up Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) as his next victim. Her millionaire father (Christopher McDonald) won’t see her taken without a fight, and so he hires a team of mercenaries to coerce Arkin into returning to the Collector’s lair, a trap-laden hotel, in an effort to rescue the teenage girl.

From there on out, Dunstan and Melton adhere pretty firmly to the “Aliens” blueprint, with the interchangeable would-be badasses being picked off one by one. It’s an excuse for a higher body count and a wider variety of torments, some of which are easily cringe-worthy (some loosed spiders here, some snapped limbs there) while others verge on laughable (an attack by doped-up zombie-like prisoners). The septic production design and cinematography are more distinctly colorful, preventing a dirty set of environments from looking outright dingy and subtly encouraging a sense of playhouse fun over shadowy menace; with that said, there is naturally no shortage of flickering bulbs to be found in any given room.

As leading man, Stewart continues to walk a fine line between stoic and sleepy-eyed, while team leader Lee Tergesen oozes more traditional machismo and cautious trust by his side. Fitzpatrick makes for a fine damsel in distress, pretty and panicked throughout, although one wonders why her character’s most pronounced trait -- reliance on a hearing aid -- doesn’t see much of a payoff beyond lending an added touch of vulnerability.

The film barrels along to a fiery finale, capped off with an inevitable coda that serves as both an acceptable cliffhanger for a potential follow-up and a nice reversal when taken on its own. I’m not sure that I can see The Collector joining the ranks of revered horror icons in the years to come, but for viewers still not put off by the very idea of so-called “torture porn,” both he and Dunstan get their jobs done with a commendable bit of flair.

Grade: C+